Flag of England: The St. George Cross

The English St. George’s cross was adopted in the 16th century. The flag is rectangular and features a red cross on a white background.  The flag has been an emblem of England since the Middle Ages and the Crusade era.  The modern British flag, although embellished with a blue background and other red stripes, still contains this basic red cross.

Saint George (ca. 275-April 23, 303) was a Roman soldier and priest and is now a Christian martyr.  He is one of the most venerated saints in the Catholic, Anglican, Eastern, Orthodox, and Oriental Orthodox churches.  The Legend of Saint George took place in “Silene,” where a plague-bearing dragon lived in a large pond.  To keep the dragon from attacking, the townspeople fed the dragon sheep, but when the sheep failed they drew lots to feed the dragon someone’s child.  The lot fell on the king’s daughter.  As the daughter stood by the pond, dressed as a bride to be fed to the dragon, Saint George rode past, tamed the dragon and saved the king’s daughter.  The king’s daughter and Saint George brought the dragon into the village where Saint George told the townspeople that he would slay the dragon if everyone agreed to become baptized Christians.  The townspeople consented, Saint George slew the dragon, and the king built a church on the site of the dragon’s death.

During the Crusades, the English flag was a white cross on red while the French flag was a red cross on white.  During a meeting between Henry II of England and Philip II of France in 1188, the two powers agreed to exchange flags.  Adoption of the exchange was not unified; however, some French continued to carry the red cross on the white background and this red cross became the typical symbol of the Crusade.

St. George’s flag is flown at the Church of England and also at sporting events, particularly during cricket and rugby matches.  The City of London flies the St. George Cross with a red sword in the upper left corner.  The Royal Navy also flies the St. George Cross with the modern British flag in the upper left corner.

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